|Sanford Madigan, LinkedIn photo|
The public flare-up involving the board and a member of the public was unusual, although comments such as Madigan's are sometimes heard in private.
His remarks came at the end of a discussion about the weaknesses of the agency's closed-door review process. The discussion involved other applications in addition to Helms' proposal. Randy Mills, president of the agency, acknowledged the review process was "sub-optimal" and was being replaced by new procedures he has dubbed CIRM 2.0.
Ankasa was created by Avalon Ventures, which is raising $16 million to help commercialize Helm's work to develop a stem cell therapy to improve skeletal healing of elderly people.
The governing board of the agency handed out awards to seven scientists with the goal of moving their research closer to federal approval for a start of a clinical trial. The board approved applications from two researchers who made special appeals to the board after reviewers and staff nixed their proposals.
The rejection of the Helms proposal highlighted some of the vagaries of the agency's longstanding review process. She received an average scientific score of 72 which knocked her out of the funding category(tier one). However, her median score was 75, a figure that two reviewer-approved grants received. What skewed the average figure was a low score of 45. No other grant in the top 10 received that a ranking that low. Eight reviewers recommended funding the proposal, Four did not with three recommending it be placed in "tier two," a grey area for applications.
No reviewers were listed as having conflicts of interest on the Helms proposal. However, their finanicial and professional interests are not disclosed to the public. Nor are they identified to the public.
On another proposal, John Cashman, CEO of Human BioMolecular Research Institute of San Diego, asked for a re-review of his firm's application for a treatment involving spinal fusion. He said that his firm has worked with CIRM for several years to make changes that the agency had requested. Nonetheless, he said reviewers do not seem to agree. Cashman said,
"Certainly the system is broken."
Here is the roll call vote on the Helms' application: Yes -- David Higgins, Steve Juelsgaard, Kathy LaPorte, Lauren Miller, Art Torres. No -- Jonathan Thomas. Abstain -- Francisco Prieto, Robert Quint, Al Rowlett, Jeff Sheehy, Diane Winokur.
Summaries of the reviews of the winning applications can be found on this 90-page document.
(Editor's note: An earlier version of this item did not contain the two paragraphs that deal with the vagaries of the grant review process and conflicts of interest.)